22 Comments
Aug 31, 2021Liked by Nellie Bowles

I love this series. Kudos for having the courage and the chutzpah and the smarts to write so well about something that matters so much. I was raised in a very Jewish household, but lacked a traditional Jewish education, and I always felt deeply insecure about it. Incredibly, it was Chabad (an Orthodox sect of Jewish outreach rabbis) that first made me feel entirely legit. Your inevitable fears, missteps, and inspirations are so familiar to me. I so look forward to these posts. More, am I absolutely delighted and honored that you are choosing to join the tribe. Cheers, sis!

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I love this. Chabad does great work. I've been really impressed learning about them. And thank you!

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Sep 1, 2021Liked by Nellie Bowles

It is a great story and a powerful learning experience. Some of my favorite anecdotes come from mistakes I made in learning Hebrew, Arabic, and Turkish. Some are hilarious, but the wrong and right words are seared into my memory.

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Learning by mistake is the way to go :)

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Sep 1, 2021Liked by Nellie Bowles

I feel this. This struggle is real.

A few weeks ago, when in person Kabbalat Shabbat resumed, I missed the first service. I got a text through GroupMe of the rabbi trying to find out who was participating via streaming for a minyan so people could recite Kaddish. I felt awful about not being there, especially since I’d been doing Friday night zooms for a year.

Fast forward to the next Friday and I decided I’m going to show up to the synagogue after work so a minyan can be made. Naturally, because I’m a scientist (of sorts), I showed up in jeans and tennis shoes. (I at least wore a nice black top.)

I stood out like a sore thumb. I’m the back row. And don’t you know the place was packed to the gills because a bar mitzvah was the next day and…I wasn’t aware of this…but the family of the kid gets to have a big to do of sorts at Friday night service. Who knew? It wasn’t part of the zoom stuff all last year. Oh yeah. And the place looked like a fashion show.

I hightailed it to my car and haven’t been back since. All hail streaming.

It’s the little things they don’t teach in classes that cause me the most Oy. Stuff that is more cultural than halachic gets me every time: Learning and growing up all over again, but this time in an entirely new community. I’m like a child and it shaves my adult ego down.

I’ll be 80 and still be a beginner at this.

But I’ll be damned if I wear hose and heels. I will, however, change into a shiny pair of loafers and bring a nice sweater along with me next time.

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Alix this is such a gorgeous and funny story! Can I include it in my next essay? And streaming is great, but I'm so glad you're planning on going back in person -- don't let it get it you down!

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Thank you, Nellie! That’s a high compliment! Absolutely!

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May the Lord bless you as you faithfully seek him! You are right that religion is a relationship... we never get good enough at loving G-d to have *graduated* from that work! May it be a long and fruitful wrestling match.

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It's such a great metaphor. Thank you Leah!

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Sep 1, 2021Liked by Nellie Bowles

Hassidic Jews do not "wear the garb of 19th Eastern European Jews." Hassidic Jews dress like some 19th century Eastern European Jews dressed. Just as in America today, plenty of 19th century Eastern European Jews dressed like their non-Jewish neighbors; many were largely assimilated and secular.

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Very good point! Thank you

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Actually, I don't believe very many 19th century Eastern European Jews were assimilated and secular - the enlightenment didn't reach Eastern Europe until well into the 20th century. In the 19th century the Jews in Russia had to live in the "Pale of Settlement," there was tremendous anti-Semitism, and Jews had to fit in with their communities. In Galicia the majority were very traditional and opposed to the Enlightenment movement. Western Europe is a very different story - assimilation was a big issue in the West.

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Sep 1, 2021Liked by Nellie Bowles

That's actually what being Jewish is all about - understanding how little we know, and striving to learn and improve - always. That's what we are all going to enjoy in the world to come - we will be all learning Torah and enjoying it. That's why this world was created - so that we all can learn. Now, we need Mashiach to show up, pronto! Welcome to the tribe and Shanah Tovah and Gemar Hatima Tova!

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Thank you Irishka!

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Aug 31, 2021Liked by Nellie Bowles

You're such a source of blessing to our people. It's truly an honor to welcome you into the fold. Sweet Shana to you and yours

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Thank you Bill and thank you for being such a great blog reader!

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Welcome to the intake process for the Tribes. My wife took a similar journey 10 years ago. It added great meaning and purpose to her life.

I did not ask her to convert. Indeed, we once discussed it and agreed that it would be wrong for her to convert just so we could get a rabbi to marry us. Then came a day when she asked if I would be okay with us getting married in a civil ceremony...I said, "Okay." The next day she asked if I would be okay if she converted to Judaism. I was floored. Of course, I said "Okay." She had already found a Conservative/Masorti shul and I followed her to her first interview with the Associate Rabbi. We started going to Shabbat services every week. We quickly became influential members in the shul just because we showed up every week and were willing to help when asked. Since we were the closest congregants, I was added to the "emergency minyan" list. If our phone rang at 5:35 pm on a weekday, we knew that they needed an extra Jew. We scheduled a religious ceremony and then we had a problem...finding a date to get her to the mikvah before our wedding. We got it done exactly a week before our wedding. It was a wonderful experience.

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I’m an atheist but I have long thought that if I *were* to embrace a religion, it would likely be Judaism. It is a thinking person’s religion. And it is focused on the here and now — the temporal — rather than on the Great Beyond. You and Bari are two lucky dudes.

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You can be an atheist and still be a Jew. Belief in God is optional; what matters is following the law.

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Your piece is so moving and real, and important to share. About that 'ta-da' moment, in time, as you grow into this more, you will feel so much more at home. But in my experience, even with those who have been born into Judaism, if they've had little exposure to the deeper meaning Judaism has, they feel similarly to you...like an outsider. Learning more is a great way to feel more at home. Thank you for writing this, and I hope, after the mikvah waters seep into you, and you settle into your newness as a Jew, you'll continue writing.

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I've followed your common sense articles, and became attached to your writing. I've tried to convey this to others, but can't seem to find the right words. I just knew I liked what you wrote. I felt that there I had some link to you. I clicked on your likeness in the Friday Common Sense column, and it brought up other things about you. Now that I know why. You have a yiddisha kup!

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It so happens that I have been listening to an excellent Buddhist podcast (Zen Studies Podcast: little Zen, much Buddhist studies). Recently I listened to one entitled "If You're Not Making Mistakes, You're Not Practicing." The point was that mistakes reveal the fundamental dissatisfaction we experience in life, which is also why we practice in the first place. I know your situation is not exactly the same but it has a similarl feel. That is, that making mistakes shows us why we do the same things over and over (i.e., rituals) and why we find a deep need to practice in the first place. Life as it is regularly lived, as well as learning a new way of life, are always imperfect and not able to meet our most profound needs. Therefore, we practice/learn and strive for something higher.

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